Striking Thirteen: The World of Surveillance and Indifference

Since today, June 6, is George Orwell’s birthday, let’s begin with him. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” reads the opening line of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Looking around this morning, I find that the clocks are, indeed, “striking thirteen.”

So let me set things straight for President Obama and the NSA, this way no one has to come looking for me — or if you want to, I’m transparent: I frequently receive phone calls from Kabul, Afghanistan, sometimes even from other provinces; other times I receive communiqués from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong; I receive regular communiqués from Argentina and Great Britain, the odd couple, Spain and France, too. Sometimes Germany, though I’m sure you’re fine with that, unless it’s a white supremacist group. Welcome to the reality of global citizenry in the 21st Century. We’re all interconnected so we’re all under surveillance at all times — through Facebook, Twitter, etc. We’re all very willing to tell the world where we are at any given moment.

I am open about all of my communications because it makes little — or no — difference to the Obama Administration since it is pursuing with great force the Bush era Patriot Act section allowing for secret surveillance of US citizen’s phone records (number only for now). I am also a Verizon Wireless client, which is named in the New York Times (yes, I also have an iPhone — just keeping with the transparency). Screwed every which way, I guess.

And just to be clear, my conversations with Middlebury College alumni, which is mostly who I speak to, unless it’s family in Argentina, usually cover the following subjects:

  • The rejection of the Bush – Cheney lies that got us into Iraq, forgoing Afghanistan, until it was time to enter there.
  • The complete understanding that the government in Kabul is totally corrupt and millions U.S. dollars have been siphoned off and the Afghan people continue to suffer — and will suffer for yet another one or two generations. But we don’t really mind that.
  • The disgust over drones that in Obama’s hands makes Bush-Cheney war-mongoring seem like Sesame Street.
  • The militarization of key spots in the world to protect multinational oil business that, in turn, is channeling money to buy senators and congressmen, thus continuing our climate / environmental debacle and our dependency on fossil fuels.
  • The continued global policy, by the most powerful nations, to disenfranchise the poor – those without voice – on whose backs our way of living is built on, though, by all logical uses of statistical models we see that it’s in decline but we don’t want to look inward. So it goes.
  • The willful and systematic dismantling of public education in the USA — and education that’s meaningful globally — in order to ensure that production models of existence that malign one’s identity continue on our current conveyor belts to oblivion.
  • I also discuss, just to create a list of themes: Inverted Totalitarianism, the environmentalism of the poor, world wide, climate change, the industrialization of food and our decaying health, as well as the confusion over health care, which is an inalienable right.

There. If anyone this morning is looking around, just browsing and skimming, it’s impossible not to be depressed. Besides the U.S. secretly collecting the phone exchanges of citizens, FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe says the IRS scandal leads to Obama — and it’s as bad as Watergate. So Obama is being compared to Nixon? At this point, does anyone really care?

Obama, back in 2008, ran on the promise of change. “Yes we can.” Indeed, we can. We have changed — and Bush-Cheney are having a grand old time smiling away their respective retirements because never in a million years could they have imagined that Obama would out Bush-Cheney them. Frankly, I don’t really know why the conservative right is all bent out of shape about Obama; he’s outdoing even them.

Let’s see:

  • Obama is weak on the environment, the Keystone pipeline likely to be the next feather in his cap.
  • Obama is weak on education, following No Child Left Behind — and Duncan’s rather mindless approach to any real education reform (I say reform rather then change, though they mean the same thing to this administration: privatization and homogeneity).
  • Obama is weak on civil liberties, particularly when it comes to our rights as citizens, going full force with an Orwellian (thus the beginning of this piece) scheme that will blanket the nation — and the world. (See the book: Chatter)
  • Obama is strong on keeping our banks strong, as I said he would during his 2008 election campaign; shortly thereafter appointing Timothy Geithner, a Wall Street insider, Secretary Treasurer — the fox in the hen coop.
  • Guantanamo is still open — what more can we say?

On June 23, 2011, I said that even with an Obama victory, nothing will change. GMO’s everywhere so that we can’t tell what’s what; a Farm Bill that, according to Mark Bittman in Welfare for Wealthy, is, well, just that, welfare for the wealthy — multinational agribusiness will be guaranteed pay-offs and given an open door to increase their monoculture production that has ruined land and air, while the poor will get less; Eric Holder is still on the ropes with the FBI scandal, the aggressive probing of journalists.

Has anything changed, really?

In my mind it has — but it didn’t change with Obama. In my mind things began to change and become more violent and aggressive, government more elusive, abrasive and prohibitive, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At 12:30PM, Central time, on November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, the world changed — and if not the world, then the U.S. certainly did. A standing president could be assassinated. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm X was assassinated (February 21, 1965), in New York City. On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. And, on June 5th of that year, shortly after midnight, Bobby went. In the span of 5 years, a sitting president, a brother running for president and two civil rights leaders were all shot down before our eyes. We were all witnesses. American violence played on the evening news, alongside harrowing images of Vietnam and dogs attacking Civil Rights marchers. We passed through the looking glass and became something else altogether different — callous, angry, colder and more reserved and reluctant.

It was no wonder that this lead to Richard Nixon and Watergate. The stage was set for the coming of our hostile age of surveillance and indifference, the twin brothers that accompany a politics that gives justice to malice.

In his seminal work, The Idea of Justice, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen says that, “What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just — which few of us expect — but that there are clearly remediate injustices around us which we want to eliminate.” All around us, daily, we see, “inequities or subjugations from which we may suffer and which we have good reason to recent, but it also applies to more widespread diagnoses of injustice in the wider world in which we live,” continues Sen.

So I want to be clear, I want to be transparent about what I’m saying, this way, Mr. Obama and the NSA have a clear mission: the most profound injustice, which is evident in the U.S., as a leader, and the wider world, is a resentment towards creative, free and open uses of the imagination; rather, justice, now, is interpreted as equal to or consistent with the injustice brought about by homogeneity and subjugation, the children of surveillance and indifference.

In other words, when I talk to my former students in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Great Britain, Germany and France and Spain, we all note the same thing: the closing of the American mind leads the world so powerfully that the abuses and violence we see in the rest of the world are a mindless mirror of who we are and what we’ve nurtured. That’s been the big change. We’re leading the world in our repression of social justice, of humanity. We’re all interconnected; it can’t be otherwise.

The Location of Newark in the New World Order: Privatization and its Discontents

I. Newark and the New World Order

Newark is a microcosm of what’s happening across the United States. The city is being isolated by privatization efforts from the rest of America and people are struggling and suffering.  Politicians — Governor Christie and Newark Mayor Corey Booker, his foil — are merely mouthpieces for this effort, though they speak the language of inclusion. But Newark is being disseminated, nevertheless. In this Orwellian nightmare, the children — as they are in war — are the most vulnerable and suffering the most.

The unraveling of civil liberties and social justice is evident in the latest confusion — and fight — about the Facebook donation to Newark’s schools. This is an example of a long history of dissemination in Newark. It’s the same old story, one that Newark — and other cities like Newark — have experienced before. On one side of the equation, we have Booker telling Oprah that he’ll include Newark’s parents in the decision making process; on the other we have parents feeling alienated and concerned with Booker’s appointment of Chris Cerf as the a new acting state commissioner of Education, the top post. Cerf heads a commission to double the Zuckerberg donation (they’ve already raised $43 million). Cerf is also a founding partner of a consulting firm for school districts. This is what we use to call carpetbagging, a derogatory term, suggesting opportunism and exploitation from outsiders. The feeling in Newark is that Cerf’s approach appears to be a for-profit enterprise, particularly if we take a look at Cerf’s peers that include a venture capitalist and hedge fund managers. This follows a general trend, incorporated by Governor Christie, to put private firms in charge of under-performing schools in Camden, NJ.

What is happening in Newark around education — again a powerful example of inverted totalitarianismis the result of a history of neglect. This is a history replete with structural changes, some racist, some not, that have, nevertheless, resulted in the disenfranchisement and isolation of an entire city and its citizens. These structural forces run together with cultural forces that contribute to racial inequality. The latest confusion and battle about the Facebook donation to Newark’s schools is yet another example of how the structural and cultural forces that contribute to racial inequality are exploited for — and by — an elite few. Now, though, tragically so, this too involves black politicians that use race for personal gain. This is not new, but it has now taken on an extraordinarily powerful force — it is subtle and dastardly, it is, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva suggests in his book Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, a “strange enigma.”

II. From Newark’s Riots to the New World Order

People emigrated to Newark to find the Promised Land – Puerto Ricans, Italians, Albanians, Irish, Spaniards, Jamaicans, Haitians, Mexicans, West Africans, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Trinidadians and Portuguese all came with hope looking for new horizons.

Newark is New Jersey’s largest and second-most diverse city, after neighboring Jersey City.  Just eight miles west of Manhattan and two miles north of Staten Island, Newark was founded in 1666 by Connecticut Puritans; it was a model American city until the end of World War II.

In 1922, the “Four Corners” – meaning the intersection of Market and Broad – was the busiest intersection in the United States.  It served as a regional center of retail commerce, anchored by four flourishing department stores: Hahne & Company, L. Bamberger and Company, L.S. Plaut and Company, and Kresge’s.  New skyscrapers were built every year, the two tallest being the 40-story Art Deco National Newark Building and the Lefcourt-Newark Building.  But then tax laws began rewarding the building of new factories in outlying areas rather than rehabilitating the city’s old factories – the allure of short term profit versus the benefits of long term thinking, a familiar American story.  Newark lost its sources of revenue, and it has not been the same since.

Several forces in America began reshaping the concentration of populations, adversely affecting African Americans by denying the opportunity to move from segregated inner-city neighborhoods, William Julius Wilson, the Harvard sociologist, tells us in More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City:

As separate political jurisdiction, suburbs [also] exercised a great deal of autonomy through covenants and deed restrictions. In the face of mounting pressure for integration in the 1960’s, ‘suburbs chose to diversify by race rather than by class. They retained zoning and other restrictions that allowed only affluent blacks (and in some instances Jews) to enter, thereby intensifying the concentration of the urban poor.’

As the population of blacks grew in the North, as did housing demands, there was more of an emphasis on keeping blacks out of communities. These were structural conditions setting up urban poverty. Adding to the housing problem economic forces were also at work. “In other words,” says Wilson, “the relationship between technology and international competition [has] eroded the basic institutions of the mass production system…These global economic transformations have adversely affected the competitive position of many US Rust Belt cities. For example, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh perform poorly on employment growth, an important traditional measure of economic performance.”

Jobs left Newark for suburban tax breaks. Historically — structurally speaking — racist housing practices, globalization (science and technology and the gravitation towards cheap labor) and the move out of the inner city of qualified workers gutted the infrastructure of Newark. Newark lost its tax base; its revenue flew to the suburbs where blacks were not allowed. This reality is most evident in the abandoned buildings and empty lots of Newark; it’s evident in the lack of infrastructure support — hospitals, competitive schools, playgrounds, the lack of police protection and the dismantling of city (and state) workers and their unions. This is ongoing, case in point is the Facebook conflict. Wilson is also instructive here:

Two of the most visible indicators of neighborhood decline are abandoned buildings and vacant lots. According to one recent report, there are 60,000 abandoned and vacant properties in Philadelphia, 40,000 in Detroit, and 26,000 in Baltimore. These inner-city properties have lost residents in the wake of the out-migration of more economically mobile families, and the relocation of many manufacturing industries.

In the seminal study, The New Geography, by Joel Kotkin, we learn that, “The more technology frees us from the tyranny of place and past affiliation, the greater the need for individual places to make themselves more attractive.” But this is an impossibility when there is no revenue. There is no reason to believe that cities, as we know them, will survive these changes — they may not (see also here).

By 1966, then, Newark had a black majority and was experiencing the fastest turnover than most other northern cities.

Evaluating the riots of 1967, Newark educator Nathan Wright, Jr., Episcopalian minister, scholar and poet, the author of 18 books, and a leading advocate of the black power movement said, “No typical American city has as yet experienced such a precipitous change from a white to a black majority.”

At the height of the civil rights movement, Nathan Wright, Jr., was working in the Department of Urban Work of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. In his Introduction to Ready to Riot, a sociological analysis of the conditions in black ghettos that led to the 1967 rebellions, Wright described the fear of his wife Barbara, a daycare worker, and their 17-year-old daughter, as they drove into central Newark on the second night of what he called “civic rebellion.”

“There was an air of expectancy but not of anger,” Reverend Wright tells us.  “Barbara and Bunky (his wife and daughter) locked themselves in the car and I stepped onto the sidewalk …Almost immediately there was chaos.  The liquor store was ransacked.  Men ran by with bottles of liquor in their hands and under their arms…With a sound of thunder the large plate-glass window of the bank, just a few feet from our car, was broken.  Mrs. Wright and Bunky were in near terror.”

It was July of 1967 and the disturbances spread quickly to other black urban areas.  The National Conference on Black Power was about to convene in Newark, with Dr. Wright as the organizer and chairperson. One of the first major undertakings of the black power movement, the conference brought 1,100 delegates to Newark from 42 cities and 197 black organizations. It called for blacks to build an economic power base with a “Buy Black” campaign, for the establishment of black national holidays and black universities, and broached the topic of black separatism. The conference marked a change in the civil rights movement from demanding individual rights to group solidarity. Dr. Wright was at the pinnacle of his political influence. (It’s also important to note that prior to 1967, Malcolm X, in the mid to late 50’s, as described in the new biography by Manning Marable, A Life of Reinvention, was already following a separatist agenda, advocating for black run businesses, schools, institutions).

The 1967 Newark riots – between July 12 and July 17, 1967 – were six days of rioting, looting and destruction.   Many African-Americans, especially younger community leaders, felt they had remained largely disenfranchised in Newark despite the fact that Newark became one of the first majority black cities in America alongside Washington, D.C..  “Seen as a society boxed into frustration,” Reverend Wright says in Ready to Riot, “the city as a whole may be said to have an ill-tempered tendency toward repression on the one hand and aggression on the other.”  Local African-American residents felt powerless and disenfranchised and felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often suffered police brutality; unemployment, poverty, and concerns about low-quality housing contributed to the tinderbox.

“In the mind of the distraught black community there was a growing sense of frustration, brutality, and repression,” said Wright.  Are we at this point, again?

The riots are often cited as a major factor in the decline of Newark and its neighboring communities; however, the actual factors include decades of racial, economic, and political forces that generated inner city poverty, which helped spark race riots across America in the 1960s. By the 1960s and ’70s, as industry fled Newark, so did the white middle class, leaving behind a poor population.  During this same time, the population of many suburban communities in northern New Jersey expanded rapidly.

The remnants of legalized discrimination that brought about the riots have left their mark on Newark, the poor and the very poor, and the young people among them without a community to sustain them.   For sustainability to be successful, nourishment and the necessities of life are the ground floor – the peace President Obama spoke about in Oslo. “It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security,” said President Obama. “It is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive,” he said in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, December 11, 2009. But in Newark the self-destruction that accompanies the psychologically oppressive weight of poverty and hopelessness – unemployment twice as high as in white communities, higher crimes, mortgage defaults that tract higher, and the malaise and pessimism that only benefits liquor stores and drug dealers – holds people from below and drags them down.  This is not the path to freedom. It remains, as it did in 1967, a path to destruction.

“The dark ghettos are social, political, educational, and – above all – economic colonies,” wrote Kenneth Clark back in 1965 in his seminal work, Dark Ghetto.  “Their inhabitants are subject peoples,” he wrote, “victims of greed, cruelty, insensitivity, guilt, and fear of their masters.” Has anything changed?

III. Newark and the New World Order — Tomorrow’s Promises

The confusing dilemma around the Zuckerberg Facebook 100 million dollars to improve Newark schools is the result of this structural-cultural history. One of the most dastardly cultural results is that Governor Christie and Mayor Booker believe that the citizens of Newark — and the citizens of poor communities in New Jersey — cannot be trusted to re-build their communities. They are completely left out of the equation. If there is going to be rebuilding, it’s going to be outsourced. We see the reality of this already. This perspective and attitude figures largely in a myth about poverty and the inner-city.We must again turn to Wilson for a cogent explanation:

…there is a widespread notion in America that the problems plaguing people in the inner city have little to do with racial discrimination or the effects of living in segregated poverty. For many Americans, the individual and the family bear the main responsibility for their low social and economic achievement in society. If unchallenged, this view may suggest that cultural traits are the root of problems experienced by the ghetto poor.

We have to challenge this perspective. It’s held quite obviously by Christie and Booker — this is why we see the problem with the Facebook money; this is also why we see the complete dismantling of all services in Newark and New Jersey proper, if we look at the poorer communities. Don’t let color fool you, Booker is first a politician — and politicians are always about changing color.

Finally, Homi K. Bhabha, in his by now classic The Location of Culture, gives us a warning shot across the bow:

The recesses of the domestic space become sites for history’s most intricate invasions. In that displacement, the borders between home and world become confused; and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each others, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting.

That we are disoriented, is obvious. That we are also divided, this too is quite evident, particularly when black politicians further the alienation we sense. And the fact that the private and the public are one and the same, something that Cornel West has also argued long ago, further confuses our sense of place, our histories.

Who are we?  Who and what do we want to be?  Who decides?

We have us to blame in all this, the malaise we’re in, though we’re quick to blame political figures. We have us to blame because we don’t examine ourselves, locating ourselves in this history of oppression that is quite readily available to us for our critique. As I’ve said before, just the other day in a post, I’m merely one voice — among many, I believe — who see these things like, nevertheless, I relegated to  the shadows, the boundaries of culture, to use Bhabha, again,  marginalized and disenfranchised l, and thus speaking only into silences.

Fresh Examples of Inverted Totalitarianism

It’s uncanny, but it’s very difficult to keep up with the numerous examples of inverted totalitarianism appearing daily in our popular media. That these events are routinely covered by the popular media without question and concern should give us pause.

Yesterday, in Nothing Will Change: the 2012 Presidential Election,  I gave the following example:

The NRC (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission), that boasts it’s “protecting people and the environment,” in an unprecedented move, voted 3 – 2 to advise the Obama Justice Department to intervene on behalf of Entergy Nuclear in the company’s lawsuit against the state of Vermont. Vermont wants to shut down Vermont Yankee, the aged nuclear power plant.  A government agency that is solely responsible for the nuclear safety is extending its sphere of influence and advising the Federal Government to intervene in a state’s negotiations with a private entity.

Today, we learn that the US Supreme Court has given pharmaceuticals twin wins:

In one case, a First Amendment decision, the court, by a 6-to-3 vote, struck down a Vermont law that barred the buying, selling and profiling of doctors’ prescription records — records that pharmaceutical companies use to target doctors for particular pitches. And in a second, the court ruled 5 to 4 that the makers of generic drugs are immune from state lawsuits for failure to warn consumers about possible side effects as long as they copy the warnings on brand-name drugs.

The US Supreme court ruled that the State of Vermont was infringing on the pharmaceutical’s first amendment rights. “The amendment prohibits the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion“, impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”  This is untrue, the State of Vermont is not trying to restrict the first amendment, rather they are trying to restrict pharmaceuticals from getting private information concerning different drug protocols doctors use for specific patients.

“Basically, it’s going to allow the drug companies to have more influence on doctors’ prescribing practices, to manipulate their prescribing practices, and to promote the use of more expensive drugs. Almost certainly, health care costs are going to be driven up,” said Dr. Gregory D. Curfman, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Information privacy experts also criticized Thursday’s ruling. “One of the practical consequences of the court’s decision will be to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies and data-mining firms and marketing firms to get access to this very sensitive information,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “The states are going to have to go back to the drawing board.

Ever since the Bush v Gore election, we’ve learned quite a a bit about where the US Supreme Court stands. The Court is aligned with right – wing conservative government and big business, this we know. The appointment of Justice Roberts, adding to the Court’s extreme conservatism, demonstrated a move to activist justices for the right.  The Court thus becomes the legal thread essential for big business to control government.  The  Court is the “bag man,” if you will.

In Eduction a story from the mainstream, Republican Challenges Administration on Plans to Override Education Law.  I’m no fan of Arne Duncan and Obama’s education policy, but what we find when we look under the hood of Representative John Kline’s, the Republican chairman of the House education committee, forceful attack on Duncan policies and maneuvers is an attempt to move closer to the privatization of education.

“He’s not the nation’s superintendent,” Mr. Kline said of Mr. Duncan, who assumed powers greater than any of his predecessors when, in 2009, Congress voted $100 billion in economic stimulus money for the nation’s school systems and allowed the secretary to decide how much of it should be spent.

Kline wants control of outcomes and we know that the outcome sought by the right is privatization. This move, by conservatives, is linked to a greater effort for student vouchers, creationism and an anti-gay agenda.

Imagine if all these efforts are also supported by the US Supreme Court.

And now we can look at the Obama withdrawal from Afghanistan proposal — 10,000 soldiers this year (roughly 7 percent of the occupation force) by the end of the year.  No one in the main stream press is covering what’s likely to happen:

“There’s going to have to be an accompanying increase in private security for all the activities of the new soldiers going in,” says Jake Sherman, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now the associate director for Peacekeeping and Security Sector Reform at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation.  “It’s ludicrous. It’s completely implausible.”

The mainstream media is stuck wondering why the usually war hungry Republicans — except for McCain — is going along with the withdrawal. The real story is that as we withdraw — and as the French and the British withdraw as well — there will be a void.  Private sector security companies will fill this need — and they’re the darling of the right, a pay for service military force.

Up and down the economy and culture — pharmaceuticals, energy, education and defense — we see the big reach of business; more importantly, though, we can readily see how government is stepping in and doing the bidding for this new world order. That it’s happening right in front of our eyes and that the mainstream media is simply going along suggests that the media is yet another arm of this move.  The media is not, as pundits would argue, a liberal enterprise; it’s just the opposite and simply looking at who owns the media should tell anyone that story.

Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian and the Dismantling of American Schooling

Five Irvington New Jersey teens are charged with dragging an eighth grade math teacher, Muideen Oladoja, from his classroom and beating him. A month ago, the Crips gang marched on to the campus of the Rafael Hernandez Elementary School, in Newark, New Jersey, and beat up a student who had allegedly said some words to a child of the Crip leader.

In Providence, Rhode Island, 2000 teachers serving mostly African American and Hispanic students — approximately 90% — are about to lose their jobs. In Wisconsin, the same. In Indiana and Ohio and New Jersey, here too, the dismantling of education is taking shape. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg, taking control of the Department of Education, began the break up — and break down — of education some time ago, moving towards charters and privatization.

And yet, it’s uncanny that as violence in our schools is a daily occurrence — mostly unreported by mainstream media — and our infrastructure deteriorates and our schools are carefully and forcefully being dismantled, American eyes — one million last count — are on Charlie Sheen, and Kim Kardashian’s, arguably the most popular reality TV star, release of her debut single, Jam.

What’s wrong with this picture?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, one in five American children lives in poverty and nearly 35 percent of African-American children are living in poverty.   And the figures are getting worse: In 2008, 39.8 million people were in poverty, up from 37.3 million in 2007 — the second consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.  In 2008, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (8.6 percent in 2008 — up from 8.2 percent in 2007), Asians (11.8 percent in 2008 — up from 10.2 percent in 2007) and Hispanics (23.2 percent in 2008 — up from 21.5 percent in 2007). Poverty rates in 2008 were statistically unchanged for Blacks (24.7 percent).   The poverty rate increased for children under 18 years old (19.0 percent in 2008 — up from 18.0 percent in 2007).

When we venture into politics, we find that no political figure of color comes from any social movement. These political figures have usually joined their party of choice during college; they have moved quickly up through the ranks, and they are not race rebels, as we witnessed about 40 years ago. This is Obama; it’s also Corey Booker of Newark, Michael Steele, Alan Keyes, Deval Patrick and others. None of these politicians represents a threat to the power structure of America. These politicians, as are all, black and white, male and female, are beholding to a new paradigm: a corporate – government alliance.

What am I suggesting?

I am following the notion of “racism lite,” found in Racism Without Racists, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Instead of relying on name calling (niggers, Spicks, Chinks), and lynching and black/white bathrooms, color-blind racism “otherizes” softly (“these people are human, too”).  It suggests that blacks and minorities in general have fallen behind because they’ve not worked hard enough.   This form of racism, a new ideology, which is in compliance with inverted totalitarianism — the corporate – government alliance — aids in the maintenance of white privilege without fanfare, without naming those it subjects and those who it rewards.   In this world, whites can even claim, “reverse racism.”   The Tea Party Movement, small as it is, is replete with this kind of language.

Where are we?

Kenneth Clark, back in 1965 – that’s 45 years ago – in his seminal work, Dark Ghetto said the following:  “The dark ghettos are social, political, educational, and – above all – economic colonies.  Their inhabitants are subject peoples, victims of greed, cruelty, insensitivity, guilt, and fear of their masters.”

This is the world we’re still creating, not realizing that the resulting tragedy of this always-ongoing story is that fellow citizens – fellow Americans and in some cases immigrants, legal and not, lured by the promise of prosperity – are disenfranchised and relegated to a life where hope is indeed on a tightrope.  What’s more, children, by the thousands, have no cultural armor to protect them while navigating the terrors and traumas of daily life.

Even an extreme conservative doesn’t seem able to understand how fiscally costly this is, never mind the human cost. In fact, it’s cheaper to send a student to an elite liberal arts college, costing over 45K a year, then it is to send this same person, usually Black or Latino (but mostly Black), to prison.

President Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, December 11, 2009 said the following: “It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive.  It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.”   He was speaking to the world about the world outside the United States.  He was speaking as the Commander-in-Chief.

Yet closer to home, in the communities in which I work and learn – Newark’s South Ward and Washington Heights, Providence, R.I., Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, Compton – families and their kids live in “despair,” which is a word that parents and teachers share with me to describe their condition.   Young people need a community to sustain them, and these days, we’re in deep trouble because we’re dismantling education, ensuring deep divides in our society based on access to the language of social mobility — some can still find hope, while other are relegated to a bleak and dark future.

In the beginning of his powerful work on American Education, The Shame of a Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Jonathan Kozol sits and talks to an elementary student, Pineapple. In this exchange, Kozol is drawn to Pineapple’s use of “over there” when she points to the Manhattan island:

“What’s it like,” she asked me, peering through the strands of her cornrows that cam down over her eyes, “over there where you live?

“Over where?” I asked.

“Over — you know …,” she said with another bit of awkwardness and hesitation in her eyes.

I asked her, “Do you mean Massachusetts?”

She looked at me with more determination and a bit impatiently, I thought, but maybe also recognized that I was feeling slightly awkward too.

“You know …,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“Over there — where other people are, ” she finally said.The moral of the story is that Pineapple has little contact with white people, Kozol explains, except for her principal and teachers. Racially, kids like Pineapple are totally cut off; they have “little knowledge of the ordinary reference points that are familiar to most children in the world Pineapple describes as ‘over there,'” says Kozol.

The violence in Irvington New Jersey and the Rafael Hernandez Elementary School is, in part, a consequence of this lacking in reference points — desperate acts always follow.

The dismantling of education by proxies of corporations, as are the governors of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and New Jersey, is the dramatic sign that the way business has been done in the past is over and that a new world order, beginning here in the United States, is taking shape.  The dominant class — those closely aligned with the corporate state — marginalizes class and race , breaks up collective bargaining, and dismantles education because the last thing inverted totalitarianism needs is an educated class, so our focus is kept on Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian. What a world.

Preliminary Notes NCORE (Day1-PM 2)



5-5:45 (Potomac Ballroom A and B/Convention Center, Level 2)
Afternoon Conference Pleneray Session

Teach the Children, Free the Land: The Political Economy of Public Education

Mari J. Matsuda, J.D., Professor of Law, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawi’i—Mãnoa, Hawai’i ( pioneer in critical race theory; top, most influential Asian Americans)


•    Loves coming to the conference – she can tell it’s NCORE.  It is a convention of people who are dedicated to the heart and spirit of the country, rich in its diversity. It’s not a convention in Arizona
•    Currently working on a book on the state of public education – history, economy, race and subordination and class
•    3 worlds: (1) greed is good: plow orchards and build macmansions to people that can’t afford them; bail out too big to fail ponzi schemes that are too large to fail, the $ coming from the workers; experts say that this is not suppose to happened; (2) greed is good lite: a modest national health care system, leaving all intact –pharmaceutical, hospitals, etc; business as usual; give cash for clunkers; what you can pull together for yourself will be yours – up and down and malaise: (3) just beyond our grasp: expected to work hard, but the market does not make rules, we do it under the Constitution and build a democracy – we choose how to regulate markets; we will impose reasonable regulations on the food industry; we will propose reasonable regulations on oil and coal so that they can’t kill our oceans and our land.
•    Topic: if we could take hold of our government, we can start investing in our needs – education, health care, homes, etc., everything that’s as important as militarism. This place is imperative, because our nation’s survival dependents on an educated citizen that can build our future.
•    We’re losing minority enrollment because of the economy.  As a critical race theorist, I ask what race has to do with it and I consider all forms of subordination intersecting in our schools.
•    No more orchestra, no glee club, no more play – it’s all gone from public schools.
•    What happened?


•    In DC, in public schools, mouse feces in closets, no heat, so students have to learn to write and ware mittens
•    To avoid social problems (critical race theory) is to place them on the shoulders of a disenfranchised group
•    Reagan cut social investments using images of poor, homeless people of color, although most recepients were white
•    What does it mean when we say, “They just can’t learn?”  We have to keep “our” students from “their” students
•    Most schools are “black”—black teachers, black students, etc. – all coding, encompassing all ethnic groups of color
•    Derek Bell – when people say urban, we mean “black”; it happens at the uncoscious levels: “We can’t just throw money at the problem because it will be waste.  The problem is waste and inefficiency.”
•    The presuption that they will fail is racist—they don’t have what it takes to succeed
•    No form of subordination is without cause: everyone can read, write and succed
•    Where is the interconnection of forms of subordination that cause this
•    Gender is less obvious: look for gender where it’s hard to see: we swim in the objectification of women. Where is gender of subordination in education?
•    Second wave feminists were involved in practice, though what they asked for became theory, one such area is public vs private, so women originally entered the public in private sphere jobs
•    Ideology of separate spheres carried over, after the second wave
•    Post New Deal Era marked a sharp decline in women wages – short paying women and unfunding schools; we have decreased the total amount of money put into the infrastructure
•    Broken systems generate costs, inefficiencies generate costs – it sends a message to students, which is education is not important.  Feminist take: education of children is woman’s work; in the middle class, women still pick up the work. Women are doing the job that the state is suppose to do.
•    Well endowed private schools do spend money on infrastructure, things are fixed
•    Poar New Deal generation have the same sense of entitlement, but now the parents have to pick up the slack: what will it take to stop accomadating and resisting all efforts to divest the public sector
•    In deep economic era, there is no public outcry at the abuse of the working class
•    Capital will make consessions to the worker if it has no choice; it responds with just enough to quiet it down
•    During the last depression, people did fight back – people marched, 20,000 strong, on to capital hill (unemployed veterans of WW1, run out by tanks and Army personal on horseback) – this image gave us the New Deal (note: we never hear this narrative)
•    Three decades later, poor women, stood up demanding demanding for their children
•    Power concedes to the demands of the poor; we have models of multiracial divesting and as educators we need to retrieve them
•    Now we see public education as expendable: the country belongs to us and we have the power to make the country strong
•    We need a new deal for education
•    DuBois: a deep hunger for learning among those we consider the outcasts
•    We have protoypes of multiracial, small schools that work
•    We know what works; it’s not a mystery, so it’s proof that we are making a deliberate choice to have urban schools fail. Charters, etc., words that supplant the kind of integration that’s needed
•    We have become unknowing survilists in terms of education; we’re taking on education as a personal problem.  But people must be called back to the table to re-do what we’ve left behind
•    Every child is our own – feed, teach, shelter, embrace every child with the love human beings are entitled. This is when we’ll see peace.  An investment has to be made – and it’s a big investment
(note: we do make this investment, but it separates those that can afford it from those that can’t; standardization is what we do when we’re aiming low)

Citizen’s Manifesto, a Call for a New Order

We live in virtual worlds that are inherently nonhierarchical and antibureaucratic.  We live in a real world that has essentially come to a halt — capitalism is flat and government’s hot air is leaking.  Our real world is mired in slow growth, a ruptured infrastructure, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, staggering poverty and violence, a public education system that is so large and so monolithic that it can’t even begin to realize it has failed to adequately function as a leveling force in a democracy, and a nightmare health care system that clearly cannot be maintained and grown to cover the millions of Americans that, in the richest country in the world, have no access.

We’re tired.

We live in virtual worlds that are not loyal and do not reinforce obedience.  Our virtual lives are encouraged by our stories — Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and so on; we engage with our stories, make intimate connections based on our mutual understanding.  We live, instead, in a real world where political figures that are suppose to represent us don’t know who we are — not at all; rather, they speak about “Americans” — “what Americans want”; “the American people prefer”–as if we’re a foreign species unacceptable to the special interest groups and lobbyists that keep handing out money and gifts to get their way.  Washington is totally paralyzed and bifurcated.  At the center is negligence and absolute incompetence, narcissism and corruption — an overwhelming hubris.

Yet what we, the American people, want is simple: peace and harmony, meaningful work, time and space to find happiness with our loved ones.  Is this so difficult to ensure safely?

America is schizophrenic.  We’re frustrated and we can’t take it anymore.  We want an end to the cold, hard and callous way of living and working, particularly in politics — the status quo — and we want to move to a more creative, palliative and compassionate way of life that considers virtue and happiness, first, conspicuous consumption last.  Life is short.  We only have one life.

Hell, we need to turn this ship around, recycle old ideas and scream for new ones.  We need a Citizen’s Manifesto, a Call for a New Order.  We need to latch on to new ideas and discredit ones that don’t work.

Citizen’s Manifesto, a Call for a New Order: The Ninety-Five Theses

(a blog is our version of the Castle Church in Wittenberg)

1. No one is Master over our lives.  We are Masters of our own lives — the only ones we have.

2. We are inextricably linked to the awesome, subtle and mathematical precision of Nature.

3. Nature is awe aspiring.

4. Nature is governed by knowable laws — Physics.

5.  Nature is finite and infinite, simultaneously, going through a process of life and death.

6.  As we decay, we come closer to the infinite; when we finally die, our stories — our lives — remain, giving sustenance to others.  This is how we live in and with history.

7. How we live — the purpose of our lives — will determine our legacy.

8. Being positive and affirming is key for attracting the positive and affirming — cycles of creativity that inspire virtuous action.

9. Climate change is real. It is a sign of our hubris — our disconnection from Nature and ourselves.  Climate change is real because it’s mathematical, a sign of our lack of positive and affirming life styles.

10. We humans have placed ourselves at the center of the universe, while life and our minds are simply a continuation of Nature.

11.  Our mediated  experiences — MEDIA — are shallow and manipulated into believing we are a homogeneous whole, which stands against the diversity we find in Nature.

12. The more DIVERSE the system, the more easily problems and challenges can be solved.

13.  The purpose of mediated experiences is to move us — and have us believe — that conspicuous consumption is healthy for us.

15.  Conspicuous consumption works against Natural Law — and negates the promise of DIVERSITY.

16. Our government lacks diversity, adhering to the homogenizing power of global markets and special interests.

17. We are exhausted by a political system that assumes to know us — it doesn’t.  We the citizens that pay for Washington are the special interest group most in need. Let’s take charge, NOW.

18.  We don’t live in a Democracy, then — it’s something else we can’t yet define.

19.  We live instead in a stagnant capitalist system that aspires towards a vertical economy.  It’s spiraling downward, out of control.

20.  Shut off televisions and get informed.

21.  We are tired by special interests trumping our inalienable rights — freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

22. Let’s boycott special interests, not buying their products, not abiding by their selfishness.

23.  We are tired by politicians doing nothing and yet assuming they know what we want since they always turn their backs on the small, working class citizens who are actually holding this country — and its government — together with the shares extracted from what little value we get from our over work.

24. We demand a payback, in the form of better schools, which we will govern, health care for all Americans, a process to employ Americans to rebuild the infrastructure that is falling apart.

25. Public Education is criminal.

26. Our children are not homogeneous, nor are they automatons.

27. Our children are creative, enthusiastic forces that need a safe and creative environment to learn.

28. Stop turning your backs on our children!

29.  Let’s stop turning from — and denying — history, science, especially, and fundamental economics and put into action what we, the people, already know: we have been transformed, utterly.

30. Reach out to the experts in our country; they’re in our universities.

31. We, the people, have lost control over monolithic government — we need to take it back.

32. Capitalism, as we practice in the USA, is broken — growth is flat.

33. We need to change it ourselves, recognizing that we can’t keep on living with a more growth mantra.

34. Less is more.

35. Efficiency is key.

36. At the heart of efficiency is diversity — the more diverse we are the better we are at solving problems.

37. We live separate, distant lives from our neighbors and ourselves.

38. We want and need to share our stories, a greater intimacy.

39. Intimacy moves matters of the heart.

40. The heart is where virtuous action lives.

41.  Do something, anything, for someone else.

42. Honor thy neighbor as thyself.

43. Travel the road less traveled.

44. Imagination, stupefied by institutions — education, government and entertainment — is the only way out of this mess.

45. Imagination requires discipline.

46. Discipline requires safety.

47.  Safety requires humility.

48. Humility inspires.

49. And vulnerability is strength because it comes from Truth.

50. Love and truth are synonimous.

51. Love and truth are antidotes to corruption.

52. Corruption is a sign of illness.

53. A culture that breeds the illness of corruption is dying a slow death, a cancer has taken over from within.

54.  How we choose to look at a given situation is the only human freedom.

55.  The only human freedom — the freedom to select a point of view — can be leveling.

56.  We all suffer.

57.  To be human requires that we open up to the Other who suffers as we do.

58.  Thus choosing to reside inside the Other’s story will make us more humane.

59. Violence and war — the solutions for all of humanity’s problems — erace the Other.

60. Violence and war are approaches held dear by the most privileged.

61.  Privilege is blinding.

62. This kind of blindness kills.

63. We live in a world of increasing complexity.

64.  Complexity requires simple approaches.

65.  Complexity requires diversity.

66. A lack of diversity is a sign of our illness, too.

67.  Our institutions thrive — and are dying consequently — on zero tolerance for diversity.

68.  Our instutitions are old world models that are broken.

69.  Technology provides answers but we’re abusing out technologies.

70.  Technologies are pushing us.

71.  Technologies are confusing and we’re living in a new world order because of technologies.

72. We don’t understand our technological selves.

73.  Technologies, first and foremost, are by definition created with our fallacies.

74.  Where there is technology, there is both wonder and error.

75.  Failure is important.

76.  Failure = learning.

77.  We culturally define failure as unacceptable.

78.  How we define failure in our culture is another sign of our illness.

79.  Fail all the time — and we’re punished for it.

80.  This form of cultural punishment rejects the imagination.

81.  The imagination requires failure.

82.  Thus we fail to communicate, the most dramatic characteristic of our illness.

83.  A failure to communicate means we live disconnected with each other.

84.  Disconnection causes misunderstanding.

85.  Misunderstanding is the first rung in the ladder that rises to violence.

86.  Then hope is on a tightrope, which is why our illness inspires anxiety.

87.  And anxiety creates desease, the manifestation of our global illness — the disconnection we feel with ourselves, others and the Earth.

88.  There is a way out if we examine the laws of Nature and we place ourselves in this continuum.

89.  Growth is natural — if it’s intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

90.  Growth, when natural, requires safety and the imagination.

91.   Nature is imagination.

92.  Our disconnectedness renders us hopeless because we’re reaching a point where we can’t find the language of social harmony.

93.  Harmony is how the Earth works.

94.  Harmony is a balance.

95.  Harmony is the peace within we need to see the Other.

Death in Chicago and the American Decline

I’m taking a slight break from revisiting my schooling past to address what just happened in Chicago: Chicago Targets Teen Violence After Teen Brawl (and death). Earlier, in Education Stimulus Package: In Duncan’s Hands, Hope is on a Tightrope, I wrote that,

If the rest of the stimulus package proposed by the President and approved by Congress (the Senate is debating the package) is handled the way Secretary Duncan discussed the $140 billion increase in federal money for education we are in for a difficult ride. Duncan (University of Chicago Laboratory Schools / Harvard) is long on hyperbole, short on any understanding of the challenges facing education.

The recent violence in Chicago demonstrates that at its core the way education has been managed (in Chicago) needs to be revisited since Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 project to improve public schools. Renaissance 2010 converted several failing high schools into smaller specialized schools. The goal was to improve learning and boost test scores. But it forced thousands of students to attend schools farther away from home and across dangerous gang and neighborhood turf boundaries.

Chicago education officials support Renaissance 2010, saying that “deeper” problems promulgated the violence in Chicago that ended the life of a young man. The tragedy in Chicago is a convergence of 2 American tragedies: (1) The Renaissance 2010 project is an ill conceived method of management based ONLY on what Freire has called the “banking system of education,” meaning that Duncan’s concern is solely management, the herding of students and teachers into a hierarchical — and quantifiable — system, rather than thinking about the creation of learning spaces that are both safe and invigorating; and, (2), the ongoing work by the US Government, since the stimulus package, to cut the education budget, which then converges with the decline of support in neighborhoods throughout the country–the South Bronx, Newark’s South Ward, Compton, in LA, and, yes, Chicago.

We cannot address problems in education unless we likewise address problems in our communities — unemployment, health care, and the malaise brought on by hopelessness.

In The Uneducated American, Paul Krugman, writing for The New York Times, says that, “Until now, the results of educational neglect have been gradual — a slow-motion erosion of America’s relative position. But things are about to get much worse, as the economic crisis — its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for ‘fiscal responsibility’ in Washington — deals a severe blow to education across the board.”

Duncan and Congress are entrenched in a mission to increase efficiency by “busing” students into massive schools focused intensely on standardization, while paying absolutely no attention to the decay that is so evident in some of our communities. Since the Reagan years, the gap between the haves and the have nots has increased. We are now seeing the results of the same old policies that have, through Bush II, ensured that the gap has remained, obvious in the way we’re handling education and health care.

The lack of creativity, the lack of a future looking agenda that taps some of the best thinkers in education, community development and health care means that we’ve not seen the end of this tragic approach. More students will die. Of course, many more students do, perhaps not as dramatically (meaning: getting media attention) as they have in Chicago (last spring, working in Newark’s South Ward, 2 children were shot in a playground — a drive by shooting and the children were collateral damage).

If we don’t take stock of our blindness, we will continue our downward spiral.

Education Stimulus Package: In Duncan’s Hands, Hope is on a Tightrope

On January 30, 2009, CNN’s Campbell Brown interviewed Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the President’s $140 billion increase in federal money for education.

If the rest of the stimulus package proposed by the President and approved by Congress (the Senate is debating the package) is handled the way Secretary Duncan discussed the $140 billion increase in federal money for education we are in for a difficult ride. Duncan (University of Chicago Laboratory Schools / Harvard) is long on hyperbole, short on any understanding of the challenges facing education.

Duncan begins by trying to mirror Obama’s own rhetoric. “This is an extraordinary opportunity and if we want to become a strong economy again, the best thing we can do is have an educated work force.”

But how do we do this ? How are we going to meet the needs and challenges of our diverse society?

Says Duncan, “So the stimulus package is going to do a number of things. It’s going to help us [word missing in transcript here] a tremendous unmet capital needs and so it’s really going to be a huge opportunity to invest in infrastructure and several ready projects that we want to get to work on very early on, late spring and through the summer.

We want to save literally hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs. We’re very, very worried about tremendous cuts, devastating cuts in school districts and states around the country. We want to stay those off going into the fall. We want to continue to raise the bar academically, raise standards, raise expectations, and there’s opportunities in the stimulus package to do that.”

Wait. Capital needs, invest in infrastructure, ready projects, raise standards and expectations–what does all this mean?

It means that the Obama Administration is assuming that what we have to do is pour money into existing buildings, programs and the old ways of doing business in education without first spending some needed money to try and create an atmosphere of inquiry and critical assessment.  We have to save teachers’ jobs, even if some of these teachers, like bankers and Wall Street types, don’t merit the jobs they hold. That is, the early money for the education stimulus package is going to be spent on bolstering what we already have without first trying to understand–and realizing–that what we have has gotten us into the pickle we’re in now.

When a society is in crisis, as is ours, it means that education has been in crisis for far longer.

Let’s not forget that highly educated people created the mortgage crisis, the disintegration of our financial systems and two wars. The educated people in our society argued for Weapons of Mass Destruction that didn’t exist–and they new it. Never before have so many highly educated people in America been without work and there’s none to be had in the not so distant future.

On the other end of the scale, in New York City, for instance, less than half of its students graduate high school. I asked New York City teachers why and the most resounding answer is that for over 50% of the students, the curriculum is totally irrelevant. They can’t identify with it at all. Add to that segregation, rampant in urban schools, family problems, health care problems, unemployment and no investment in capital needs is going to alleviate the suffering and move these people from a cycle of self-doubt, depression and hopelessness.

When Ms. Brown asked Duncan about No Child Left Behind, something he says he knows quite a bit about, he was tongue tied, unable to respond in any meaningful way about either the pluses or the minuses of the law.

“Well obviously,” said Duncan, “I’ve lived on the other side of the law for the past seven-and-a-half years so I have lots of strong opinions about it. But what I want to do is really get out this and travel the country, and I’ve about frequently as has President Obama [word missing from trranscript] that the philosophy behind it makes a lot of sense. We need to raise the bar, I would argue, we need to raise the bar even more and have high expectations. We want to hold people accountable.”

Is Duncan kidding? This is Bush rhetoric disguised in the Obama aura. Ms. Brown pushed harder. She asked Duncan to be specific.

CB: But be specific. I mean you certainly know about it, about No Child Left Behind and what it entails to have formed an opinion on whether it’s the right way to go.

DUNCAN: Yeah well again, philosophically, directionally, it’s the right way, but there’s many things in the invitation that we think we can improve on moving forward.

CB: Like what?

DUNCAN: There’s a number of things. I’m very interested in graduation rates, and we want to make sure more of our students are graduating from high school and prepared with college-ready, career-ready skills. I’m interested in raising the bar and having high standards. I’m also interested in growth towards those standards, how much a student is gaining each year. But again, I really want to get out…

Duncan here shows incredible hubris, appearing on CNN totally unprepared, reliant solely on the notion that the Obama magic carpet would carry. This tack is right out of the Bush White House playbook.

Campbell Brown was clearly frustrated and insisted. “Let me stop you because there’s specific complaints here, and the President has talked about them. He certainly did on the campaign trail. We have teachers saying that the reality of No Child Left Behind, is that because it uses testing to grade a school’s performance that many teachers find themselves teaching for the test. And again, the President has talked about this. Now, I assume that’s not what we think is best for the kids so how do you fix that?”

This was a unique opportunity for Duncan to address at least one reality of No Child Left Behind: for children in schools in socioeconomically deprived areas, the conditions set forth by this law stack up against  success. For instance, in the past ten years we’ve moved aggressively against Brown v. the Board of Education. Schools today are more segregated than they were in 1954. Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, on Amsterdam Avenue in New York City, in the prestigious Lincoln Center neighborhood, has not attracted a single student from that community. They all go elsewhere so the high school is completely segregated, a hub of color among the affluent who walk around it and ignore it.

How do we raise standards and create an environment of accountability where the odds are always already against the most vulnerable?  Secretary Duncan doesn’t demonstrate any understanding of this very real problem.

What we are in fact doing continuing down this mindless path, as cogently and elegantly discussed by Jonathan Kozol in The Shame of a Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, is returning to 1896 and the “separate but equal’ rationale found in Plessy v. Ferguson. Blindly and without much imagination, Duncan is advocating a rationale “for the perpetuation of a dual system in American society”(Kozol 34). This goes all the way through to college and beyond, to how we live in our communities deeply divided by the haves and the have nots. A segregated education system creates a segregated society, regardless of the color of the President. We are far from a post-race America.

“Higher standards, higher expectations, are insistently demanded of these urban principles, and of their teachers and the students in their schools, but far lower standards certainly in ethical respects appear to be expected of the dominant society that isolates these children in unequal institutions,” Kozol reminds us (34).

This is the heart of the matter, the most profound challenge facing our culture today. Isolation causes a feeling of inferiority and disenfranchisement. Kids and their families learn that the world of the Other is not their own. Different standards are in place. Children in the South Bronx, Newark, Washington Heights, areas of Brooklyn, as well as the South side of Chicago or Boston or Compton and South Central feel that they are not a part of the world around them; that they are indeed different, less capable, expectant eyes on them. The tools for success, as we measure it today, are hidden from them.

But Duncan has a solution, at least partially, he says. In Chicago they used money to motivate students, a program that pays kids for good grades: $50 for an A – $20 for a C and a straight-A student could earn $4,000 a year. Imagine the audacity and the extraordinary blindness of such a program. Teaching kids–and enforcing quite powerfully–the notion that the end result to all things is money. Isn’t that why we’re in the mess we’re in now? And what’s $4,000 a year? To a doubting, unmotivated young boy, for instance, existing among other cynical young boys (and I’m using boys purposefully here), watching for cops on a street corner or going down the block to pick up a nickel or dime bag will earn him three  times that. So this kid finds himself in a bleak world where everyone is trying to buy him.  He’s simply a means of exchange, not a young person with dreams and aspiration.  He’ll never be able to find out what he’s good at; he’ll never be able to pursue a dream. (on teens and money attitudes )

On the other side of the socioeconomic scale, affluent parents will spend $4,000 dollars on character building summer camps for their sons already in good, solid schools; perhaps they’ll spend even more money and have their sons go abroad, study a foreign language, gaining an advantage in the global market place of ideas.

For the children from socioeconomically challenged communities, the solution is always the same: pull up your bootstraps, work harder.

Secretary Duncan is facing daunting problems and, so far, he is clueless as to how to proceed. He isn’t even showing that he understands what the problems are.

We have crossed a threshold into an age requiring new methods of collaboration–cooperation, collective action and complex interactions. This new emerging narrative is a transdisciplinary approach to getting things done, to learning, to knowledge production. But we are stuck in a 19th Century education model facing 21st Century problems and challenges.

Education is the key for a successful and fulfilling life. Education opens doors. But the world has changed and we have to determine whether education is ready to meet the needs of tomorrow. America is no longer dominant. New powers, Brazil, China and India, will continue to grow. Challenges are evident around every corner—global warming, terrorism, and limited resources. For the first time in human history, more people live in and around urban centers. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing exponentially. The key for negotiating all these challenges depends upon global cooperation focused on knowledge production, transaction, and exchange. Education, though, is still mired in an ancient silo approach—insular departments, idiosyncratic and narrow studies, the privileging of work done in isolation.  The school isolated from the life of the community.  We need new methods for training the next generation of leaders, our students.

If every institution is going to be scrutinized, education must be also. Here are the areas we must redefine (nothing Duncan is talking about):

  • segregated communities and schools that lead to self-doubt and isolation must be challenged; revitalization of Brown v. the Board of Education
  • teachers unions that in the past have provided great benefits to teachers now also provide protection for incompetence and tie the hands of those who would discipline and re-educate and dismiss; if in other sectors of our society we can get rid of the garbage, in education we have to do the same
  • technology, lacking in all schools but which should be ubiquitous, should not merely be for communication; technology must be used to create and develop new forms of knowledge construction; OpenSource and OpenCourseware must be utilized to their full capacity, developing new ways of collaborating across disciplines and across populations
  • the role of the teacher can no longer be defined by a 19th Century model; the teacher has to be versed in new technologies, psychologies of learning, sociology and economics and how these create social constructions that pre-define our communities and our students–and be able to speak to these and challenge these in collaboration with students, community leaders and families
  • community problems need not be left outside the school’s door, but rather, be at the heart of a curriculum that is inquiry based and whose outcomes are measured not by a standardized test, but by the community’s implementation of  solutions students and teachers provide
  • in many communities suffering because of disenfranchisement, the school has to be the community center; that is, it must be the community organizing hub, the health center (emergency services, routine physicals, administration of prescriptions), job center, the place for social networking and spiritual support, this way the entire community is involved in the production of knowledge
  • the production of knowledge cannot continue to be done in silos, divided into disciplines as if the problems of a community and the  identities of its citizens are somehow outside the domain of knowledge construction; teachers must collaborate with each other, team teaching in many cases, exploiting the benefits of a transdisciplinary approach that requires the uses of technology
  • the only true test of knowledge is application–tests, particularly high stakes standardized tests are absolutely opposed to this truth; in the 21st Century, the era of cooperation and collaboration, knowledge production that requires technologies, the standardized test is obsolete, like trying to cross an ocean in a canoe
  • colleges and universities have to adopt school districts and work jointly to address the needs of their respective communities; colleges and universities have to put down their ivied walls and embrace their communities
  • the disparity in salaries between those teachers working in socioeconomically challenged communities and those that do not has to be equalized because this is one of the most profound moral inequities in our culture today

These are only some of the challenges facing us today that, I would argue, require that we in education engage in a process of re-evaluation and re-definition because continuing with the same rhetoric we’ve heard for the past 10 years, and which now Duncan is continuing, will guarantee that we not move one step forward in meeting the complex demands of the 21st Century. And if we don’t like what the Education Department is doing, then our moral imperative, taking a page from bell hooks, must be to teach to transgress.

Education is the last vestige of hope we have for a healthy society. But hope is on a tightrope.